PTO for the Rest of Us

A new slant on performance tuning

Brian Moran

December 17, 2006

4 Min Read
PTO for the Rest of Us

Long-time readers of my “SQL Server Savvy” magazine column and my weekly “SQL Server Perspectives” email newsletter column know that I’ve always had a soft spot for performance-tuning. In fact, in one way or another, most of my professional-services career has focused on SQL Server performance-tuning. For that reason, the subject seemed like an obvious choice when the publishers of SQL Server Magazine and I began brainstorming new columns ideas that would be interesting to our readers. However, I didn’t want to write a performance-tuning column full of material that you could find all over the Internet. I wanted to offer you something uniquely valuable.

Performance Paradox

Recently, a meeting of contributing SQL Server Magazine editors sparked a fascinating debate. Several authors bemoaned the fact that SQL Server administrators regularly make simple, avoidable, and expensive performance-tuning errors: Seemingly, the ease with which you can find advanced performance-tuning information on the Internet over the past decade hasn’t necessarily coincided with a reduction in the number of errors that can lead to serious performance problems. In the meeting, we discussed factors that might be causing this paradox, and I’ll be addressing many of these potential causes in this space. But in general, we realized there was a problem with fundamentals.

Finding advanced performance-tuning information on the Web is simple—but how do you use it? As I write this column, typing “coronary surgery instructions” in Google returns nearly 2 million hits. Some of the material seems quite advanced and complete. As faithful readers of my columns, you would—if you required such surgery—allow me to peruse some of these articles, then crack open your chests, right? I’m not suggesting that SQL Server performance-tuning requires the same amount of training necessary to become a heart surgeon. However, I will say that performance-tuning is often more difficult than we want to admit, and that the result of attempting advanced “performance-tuning surgery”— if the work is performed by a person who doesn’t possess adequate skills—can lead to a DOA server or application.

How about a sports analogy? The maxim “Keep your eye on the ball” is drummed into the head of every ball player—regardless of sport—from the earliest days of coaching. It’s a fundamental skill. However, it’s easy to forget. Have you ever watched your favorite athlete make a simple, fundamental mistake? In sports and in performance-tuning, it’s sometimes easy to take foundational, fundamental skills for granted.

Performance Primer

Common wisdom seems to be that fundamentals are old-fashioned and that they’re just not exciting to write or read about. Perhaps you, as readers, don’t think you need to revisit fundamentals because you think you’ll never “take your eye off the ball”?

That’s where this column comes in. PTO Foundations offers a new slant on performance-tuning essentials. And just because the column is called PTO Foundations doesn’t mean that I’ll simply be rehashing Performance Tuning 101 basics that all but the newest of newbies can recite by heart. Think of this column’s focus in terms of synonyms for foundation and fundamental— underpinning, essential, vital.

This column’s core audience will be “regular” people who need to solve performance problems—or avoid them—without first becoming (or calling in) a performance-tuning expert. Whatever the skill level, the column will address concepts that are fundamental to success in the performance-tuning world. I’ll do my best to remember that my core audience consists of database professionals who probably aren’t experts. Hopefully, you’ll always find this column’s information to be approachable, consumable, and actionable.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m a performance-tuning expert. (At least, that’s what I tell my customers.) I hope there will always be a need for advanced, specialized performance-tuning skills. However, would it surprise you to know that I ultimately trace well over half of the problems I encounter to relatively simple causes? In most cases, the customer has simply taken his or her eye off the ball.

Watch the Forums!

I’m planning to keep PTO Foundations to one page each month. Alas, one page just isn’t enough to cover all the foundational topics that I’ll want to explore with you. Therefore, I’ll be regularly blogging and posting in SQL Server Magazine performance-tuning forums. Be sure to visit for updates. Let’s keep our eye on the ball and explore the fundamentals that will lead to success in the world of SQL Server performance-tuning.

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